Women Everywhere: A spirit of collaboration

As attorneys, so often we can become consumed with the time spent in our offices poring over papers, typing on our computers, or arguing in court. Is there a way to add meaning to our legal careers in a different way both professionally and personally?

Women-Everywhere Partners in Service Project, Inc. (“WE”) is a non-profit organization dedicated to projects that serve women’s and children’s needs in Cook County. WE is a collaborative volunteer project supported by local bar organizations, law firms, and other private donations. WE maintains a dedicated Board of Directors and Planning Committee comprised of attorneys, judges and non-attorneys. WE is a true bar partnership organization, which is sponsored this year by the following bar associations: Asian American Bar Association of Greater Chicago, Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago, Chicago Bar Association Alliance For Women, Diversity Scholarship Foundation, John Marshall Alumni Association, Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, Illinois Judicial Council, Illinois Judges Foundation, Illinois State Bar Association Women and the Law Committee, Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago, Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, and Women’s Criminal Defense Bar Association. Members of these bar organizations have joined our Planning Committee to represent the diverse interests of our legal community and implement the programs of WE.

Now in its 11th year, WE focuses on three main projects: the Education Day Project, the Agency Day Project, and College Scholarships.

Education Day Project. The Education Day Project focuses on court tours for over 350 local high school students at courthouses in Chicago, including Criminal, Domestic Relations, State Appellate, Federal, and Civil (Daley Center). This program is a unique opportunity each spring for the participating students to meet judges, attorneys, and courthouse personnel, learn about their career paths, and hopefully become inspired by them in a personal way. At the Daley Center, students participate in mock trials, view and learn about the adoption process, learn about the voting process through the use of mock voting booths, and watch parts of jury trials through the participation of judges in this program. The Planning Committee members volunteer as court tour leaders and coordinate the students’ visits with the judges that have been specially arranged for them. Students at the State Appellate Court and Federal Court tours have participated in mock oral arguments and question and answer panels with judges, and students at the Criminal Courts have the opportunity to hear from all the courtroom personnel, observe how the personnel interact, and hear how they made their career choices.

The court tours are one of the highlights of the day for these participating students, but they certainly are not the end of it. The Education Day Project also includes a privately-funded lunch program with exceptional speakers to encourage and motivate these young women to pursue interesting and challenging careers. Past speakers have included professional women both inside and outside of the legal field, such as Dorothy Brown (the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County), Lisa Madigan (the Illinois Attorney General), Nancy Pender (a broadcaster from Fox News), Valerie Warner (a broadcaster from WGN News), Kara Stephenson (a State’s Attorney who works in a DNA crime lab), and Julie Anderson (an FBI Agent). Speakers have addressed topics such as teen dating violence prevention and awareness, challenges they have faced in their own careers, and how they have responded to those challenges to thrive as women in their chosen professions.

Women Everywhere College Scholarship Program. Through the Women Everywhere College Scholarship Program, participating students of the Educational Day Program are eligible to receive merit-based college scholarships through an application process. The application process includes an essay topic focusing on a theme that is chosen each year by WE’s Planning Committee. This year’s theme, “Women of Tomorrow,” was incorporated into the 2010 scholarship application by requiring applicants to write an essay on a woman who made a difference in their community. This woman could be a person such as a family member or local community organizer, or the applicant could choose from a list of inspiring and diverse women, such as Christiane Amanpour, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Venus and Serena Williams. Last year, WE received a record number of applicants and awarded the recipients in person at the lunch program that follows the court tours. The selected students are awarded these scholarships during the lunch program and are able to receive special recognition among their teachers and peers. The lunch program, just as the College Scholarship Program, Education Day Project, and Agency Day Project, are all privately funded by attorneys just like you, bar organizations, law firms, and other donors. The program would not be possible without donations and volunteers, which you can assist with as further described below.

Agency Day Project. The Agency Day Project is a volunteer day organized to assist attorneys like you and me to give back to the community through a variety of service projects at local agencies. Each year, hundreds of attorneys, judges, and friends of the legal community—both men and women—give back to the community by participating with one of over 30 agencies that partner with WE. These projects allow volunteers to assist the agency’s needs through volunteer projects such as gardening, painting, or giving a legal seminar on relevant topics. For example, I gave a seminar on child support and answered questions regarding the termination of parental rights process with members of the State’s Attorney’s Office at Deborah’s Place, a shelter for homeless women who are getting back on their feet. The attorneys of Schiff Hardin had a bowling and pizza party last year with the children of Hephzibah House, a transition home for foster children whose adoptions have fallen through. The attorneys of the Black Women’s Lawyers Association of Greater Chicago sponsored an agency called Kids Off the Block where they spoke to youth and their parents about the criminal justice system, suggested steps to take if they find themselves in the system, and discussed and provided information to them about the expungement process.

Although the name, “Women Everywhere,” connotes that it is a women’s organization, our projects would not be possible without the support and project participation of both men and women. The annual court tours, for example, would not be possible without the enthusiasm and dedication of our participating judges and court tour leaders who take the time out of their busy legal careers every year to promote education and growth among these striving hopefuls in our community. WE has been specially supported by the Circuit Court Chief of Cook County, Judge Timothy C. Evans, since its inception eleven years ago. Chief Judge Evans was the very first recipient of the Women Everywhere Outstanding Partner Award. The Outstanding Partner Award is one that is given to a member of the judiciary who exemplifies the goals and values of this organization and goes above and beyond to support WE in its projects. This award hopes to inspire judges to continue participating in WE and raise awareness of this exceptional project in our legal community. The past two recipients of this award are Judge Diane J. Larsen and Presiding Judge Paul C. Biebel. The 2010 Outstanding Partner Award was recently presented to Judge Rita M. Novak of the Chancery Division. WE congratulates Judge Novak on her exceptional contributions to WE and the legal community.

My story. I personally became involved in WE four years ago when I was interested in participating in community service work as an attorney in our legal community. I had always been active in community service prior to my legal career and wanted to incorporate my legal training into future service efforts. WE afforded me a unique opportunity not only to give back to the community, but to further my leadership skills among other professionals and meet and work with the wonderful individuals of our Board and Planning Committee. I have served as a member, Chair of the Volunteer Committee, Co-Chair of the Planning Committee, and member of the Board of Directors. I presently serve again as Co-Chair of the Planning Committee and as Board Vice President. The spirit of WE is mentoring and giving back, and I have been fortunate enough to be able to give and receive the benefits of this outstanding program. Volunteering with WE has been, and continues to be, a rewarding experience that has truly enhanced my legal career outside of the office.

Volunteering with WE. The heart of the WE projects lies within our volunteers. We invite you to join our collaborative efforts to make a difference in our community and in the lives of women and children in need by volunteering on June 11, 2010 for our annual Agency Day Project. If you would like to volunteer, either individually or with your organization, please complete a volunteer form on our Web site: <www.wechicago.org> or contact Martina Brendel at mbrendel@kentlaw.edu For more information about WE or to make a donation, please visit our Web site above, or contact Co-Chairs, Shital Patel (312.803.2511) or Michelle Kohut (312.346.3191). Together, WE can make a difference! ■

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May 2010Volume 15Number 3PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)